Can Russia Be Great?

Is Russia an industrialized banana republic whose corrupt institutions and insurmountable demographic and health problems make decline inevitable, or will reform and modernization enable Russia to surmount its problems? Either outcome is possible, but there are few good reasons to be optimistic.

CAMBRIDGE – In the 1950’s, many Americans feared that the Soviet Union would surpass the United States as the world’s leading power. The Soviet Union had the world’s largest territory, the third largest population, and the second largest economy, and it produced more oil and gas than Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, the USSR possessed nearly half of the world’s nuclear weapons, had more men under arms than the US, and had the most people employed in research and development. It detonated a hydrogen bomb in 1952, only one year after the US, and it was the first to launch a satellite into space, in 1957.

In terms of soft power, communist ideology was attractive in post-World War II Europe, owing to its anti-fascist credentials, and in the Third World because of its identification with popular national-independence movements. Soviet propaganda actively fostered a myth of the inevitability of communism’s triumph.

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